Printed on: June 17, 2013

Lewiston Tribune: Here today, gone tomorrow


Lewiston Tribune: Here today, gone tomorrow

You have to be startled by all the comings and goings on Congressman Raul Labrador's staff.

First, there's his D.C. office hierarchy. He's on his third chief of staff in six months.

Labrador just placed aide Mike Cunnington in the top D.C. office post. He follows Jason Bohrer, who left the chief of staff job to work as president and CEO of the Lignite Energy Council. Bohrer followed John D. Goodwin, who left late last year.

Then there's the state operation. Labrador's district director, Jake Ball, quit last month just as it was disclosed that as Sen. Mike Crapo's 2010 re-election manager, he lost $250,000 in campaign funds on a bad investment. Ball's replacement is Doug Taylor of Idaho Falls.

Labrador's latest mouthpiece is Todd Winer, who recently held that post for Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.

Prior to him were Phil Hardy, who got fired for making an inappropriate Twitter message in the congressman's name, Michael Tate, who left in the spring and before that, Ellen Carmichael, who came to Labrador's office after working on GOP presidential aspirant Herman Cain's campaign.

In all, eight Labrador staffers - including campaign manager China Gum - have quit in the last year.

Many of these positions are lucrative jobs. Goodwin was making almost $130,000 a year. Ball's salary was about $88,000. Yet, when Ball resigned, the GOP put out a want ad to fill the position - which would suggest Labrador had no bench of players to draw upon or was caught off-guard by Ball's decision.

This is as much your concern as Labrador's. Staff members take care of constituents. They handle the day-to-day policy details. They keep tabs on the congressman's schedule. If they aren't effective, neither is the boss.

Staffing also is a window into a legislator's executive skills. How he supervises people will tell you everything about how Labrador, a prospective gubernatorial candidate, would lead a state government with thousands of employees.

Not that it's unusual to see a staff shakedown as a congressman transitions from campaign to governing. But what's underway in Labrador's office involves more turnover during a longer period than is customary by Idaho's experience.

Many of the people working for Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter, Congressman Mike Simpson, and Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have been with them for many years. Politics is an occupation where relationships and knowledge accumulate over time. Nobody wants his office to become the training ground, either for other politicians or private lobbies.

Labrador says the turnover reflects the quality of the people assembled around him.

"My staff has gained a reputation here on Capitol Hill for being hard working and effective, which has opened doors for them to become sought-after leaders in the private sector," he said in a prepared statement.

Maybe.

But here are some other theories.

Is Labrador one of those nightmare bosses - such as Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who the Daily Caller says "may be the worst" on Capitol Hill?

Are staff leaving for greener pastures because Labrador would rather return 21 percent of his allotted office budget unspent?

Are his people afraid they'll wind up on the street if Labrador wages - and loses - a GOP primary campaign against Otter next year?

Or is there some residue left over from Labrador's participation in last January's aborted coup against House Speaker John Boehner? At the time, Simpson said Labrador had forfeited his credibility and effectiveness. If that's so, has Labrador's staff found it difficult to get anything accomplished on his behalf?

If he needs a want ad to fill Ball's job, is Labrador having problems recruiting staff from the stable of Idaho Republican operatives lining up to work elsewhere?

With so much shifting around on Labrador's staff, how is the business of the 1st Congressional District getting done?

Perhaps Labrador would like to explain.